PISA in Bologna: how to fight low reading skills – A Panel Discussion during BCBF 2024

For the 61st time, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2024 will attract publishers, authors, illustrators, and book lovers from all over the world. While the book fair is dedicated to the development of a vital industry, most professionals in the book industry are aware of the declining reading skills of both children and adults.

PISA results provide scientific proof of this downward trend, sometimes referred to as the reading crisis. While Bologna is filled with great new books each year, the question remains: what if no one reads them? What if books become a relic of the past in the future?

From 9:30 to 10:20 on April 9, 2024, during a panel discussion in the Authors’ Café (Hall 30, Bologna Fiere), reading promoters from both inside and outside the publishing industry will shed light on this question.

Moderated by Daan Beeke (Stichting Lezen / EURead network manager), the panelists will discuss whether reading promotion could be a solution and how publishers can play a role in this process.

“Bologna Children’s Book Fair gives us a great opportunity to spotlight reading promotion. To ensure all children read and to combat illiteracy, we must address this issue here and now, seeking comprehensive solutions and stable partnerships across all sectors,” says Mr. Beeke.

During the panel discussion, Elaina Ryan (Children’s Books Ireland), Lovisa Fhagher Logothetis (Bonnier Family Foundation, Sweden), and Anna Zdrojewska-Zywiecka (Mamania/Relacja sp. z o.o. Publishing Group, Poland) will shed light on this question. Attendees will also learn more about what lies at the core of reading promotion.

If you are interested in this topic and are attending the Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2024, join us for a cup of coffee and a lively discussion on the future of reading and books!

All visual materials for the event are created by Valerie Weilheim.

About the panelists:

Elaina Ryan

Elaina grew up in Wexford and Waterford. She holds a BA in Languages and Cultural Studies from University of Limerick and an MLitt in Publishing from University of Stirling. She has a background in children’s book publishing and is co-Artistic Director, with Niamh Sharkey, of Towers and Tales Children’s Book Festival in Lismore, County Waterford. Elaina has led the team in Children’s Books Ireland since 2013.

Lovisa Fhager Logothetis

At the Bonnier Family Foundation Lovisa Fhager Logothetis leads the work with several reading promotion methods, one that aims to get young people to read aloud to younger children during the first week of the summer holidays. Lovisa is an expert in children’s rights. She holds a master’s in political science and has a background in organizations Amnesty International and Unicef and is part of several different expert networks for children’s rights. She previously led a civil society organization that worked on equality issues that distributed over a million books to Swedish children and youths for free.

Anna Zdrojewska-Zywiecka

Anna studied Cultural Studies at the University of Warsaw and the University of Amsterdam. She is also an MBA graduate of the SGH Warsaw School of Economics. In 2010 she founded Mamania publishing house that specializes in parenting and children’s books. Anna and her company are among the founders of the Universal Reading Foundation. The foundation is supporting children’s development and supporting adults in their parenthood, showing the great importance of reading in both those areas.

Daan Beeke

Daan Beeke studied Dutch Literature at Utrecht University and started his career as high school teacher of Dutch Literature and Language. Since 2008 he works for the Dutch Reading Foundation (Stichting Lezen) as a domain specialist, working on high school projects and programs. He is also involved in the EURead network and in the Global Network for Early Years Bookgifting, as a network manager. 

Graphic design:

Valerie Weilheim

Valerie holds a degree in Literature from the Universidad Central de Venezuela (Magna Cum Laude, 2019). She works as an editor, illustrator and reading promoter. In Venezuela she has been a workshop leader for Rana Encantada since 2010, is part of the evaluation committee for children’s and young adult books of Banco del Libro and is the co-founder of the fanzine publisher Perro Amorfo (2017). She also collaborates with the digital magazine Pez Linterna and the Asociación Artística-Sociocultural Mestiza (San Sebastian).

Portfolio: https://www.behance.net/valerieweilheim Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/valerieilustra

Empowering European Literacy: Insights from the Second Day of European Authors Conference

The 2024 Day of European Authors, initiated by the European Commission, took place on March 25, 2024. Teachers, librarians, students and book lovers from across Europe came together to celebrate the crucial role of writers, poets, translators, and illustrators in shaping the cultural diversity and richness of European literature.

Screenshot from the website of the European Commission – Day of European Authors

Among the various activities, the European Commission organised a conference in Leuven, Belgium, bringing together key stakeholders in culture, education, reading, and literacy to discuss potential solutions to the declining reading skills among European citizens.

The conference commenced with opening remarks by Ms Iliana Ivanova, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, who said that “1 in 4 fifteen-year-olds don’t have the appropriate reading skills in the European Union”.

During the first panel, moderated by Elaina Ryan (CEO Children’s Books Ireland), panelists Dr. Dirk Hastedt (Executive Director, International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievements (IEA) and Dr. Tiziana Mascia (Adjunct Professor of Children’s Literature at the University of Urbino and Representative of the European Literacy Policy Network (ELINET) highlighted issues related to declining reading abilities based on assessment surveys like PIRLS and PISA, as well as the lack of motivation for reading among children.

“We talk about a lost generation to COVID but what about the lost generation from not reading?”, asked Dr. Hastedt.

Pledging for a common understanding and definition of what reading is, Valentina Stoeva (Chairperson of Reading Foundation Bulgaria and representative of EURead network) discussed the work of reading and literacy promoters. She underscored the critical role of families, kindergarten teachers, and librarians in both public and school libraries. Stoeva emphasized the need for support, based on research and carefully selected, high-quality books, to effect change in Europe’s reading landscape.

“Reading is a basic human right, and although it is not guaranteed by nature that individuals will be able to learn to read, we as a society must work on supporting everyone to become a reader, if we want to preserve the core democratic values and ensure that no one is left behind.” – said Valentina Stoeva.

The second panel, moderated by Daan Beeke (Domain Specialist at Stichting Lezen and Network Manager at EURead), delved into the importance of families, librarians, and reading promoters in shaping children’s interests from an early age, thereby preparing them for school and life. Presentations included the Flemish Reading Plan by Noa Heyndrickx (Literatuur Vlaanderen, Flanders, Belgium) and insights from Simon Bequoye (Iedereen Leest, Flanders, Belgium) on the significance of initiatives like BookStart and the role of libraries in providing access to books for families.

Benjamin Kesteloot (Director, Médiathèque départementale du Pas-de-Calais, France) and Laura Guindal Martínez (Deputy Director General for Coordination of Libraries at the Ministry of Culture, Spain) shared some insights of the projects they are developing in the field of reading. Special focus in this panel was put on Ukraine, with the keynote and thought provoking speech on the importance of “books as shelters for the mind” by Olena Odynoka (Deputy Director for International Cooperation, The Ukrainian Book Institute).

The third panel featured insights from three young individuals who shared their perspectives on reading and the curriculum.They highlighted the importance of encounters with authors and shared their personal experiences as avid readers, which often differ from the interests of their peers.

The second day of the conference saw fruitful discussions on various topics including the book sector, literary pedagogy, and promoting reading in the digital age. Key messages emerged, emphasizing:

  • The importance of early reading and shared reading for pleasure among parents and children, including the Early Years Bookgifting programmes.
  • The crucial role of reading promoters in supporting families, healthcare service employees, and educators with advice and books.
  • The significance of libraries, both public and school, and the need for support from national and local governments to ensure access to new books and knowledgeable librarians.
  • Closing the gender gap in reading by publishing stories that appeal to both boys and girls.

Looking ahead to the 2024 European Parliament elections, the conference participants expressed optimism about the positive impact of the event on the future of the European Union and Europe as a whole.

EURead members, participating in the Conference:

PISA 2022: a Call for Action by EURead

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2022 results were announced on December 5th 2023. Nearly 700,000 15-year-old students in 81 countries were tested on mathematics, reading and science. The 8th edition, with a focus on maths, was also the first to collect data on student performance, well-being and equity before and after the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article we summarize the results in reading, and EURead Chair Dr. Joerg Maas responds with a call for action.

Surprisingly so or not, on average, the PISA 2022 assessment saw an unprecedented drop in performance across the OECD. Compared to 2018, mean performance fell by 10 score points in reading. According to the insights, the decline in students’ performance can only partially be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, with falling scores in reading, science, and maths already apparent prior to 2018.

The survey also revealed the fast-changing impact of technology on children’s educational performance. While moderate use of digital devices in school was associated with higher performance, the researchers note that this depends on the technology being used to support rather than distract from learning. 

On average across OECD countries, students who spent up to one hour a day on digital devices for leisure scored 49 points higher in maths than students who spent between five and seven hours per day, after taking into account students’ and schools’ socio-economic profile. 45% of students reported feeling nervous or anxious if their phones were not near them, on average across OECD countries. 

The state of reading proficiency is alarming

According to the PISA 2022 Results (Volume I): The State of Learning and Equity in Education*, reading proficiency is defined as follows: “Reading literacy is understanding, using, evaluating, reflecting on and engaging with texts in order to achieve one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate in society” (OECD, 2019[22]).

The proficiency of 15-year-old students in extracting and processing written information, to understand it and upgrade their previous knowledge, and to assess the truthfulness of the given text by using different kinds of media, are considered crucial for the 21stcentury. Unfortunately, the results show a significant decline in almost all of the participating countries. 

“The latest PISA report shows a devastating situation in most of the OECD countries: reading competence levels dropped once again in almost all countries participating in the study. Despite the fact that some countries performed better than most of the others, e.g. Ireland, Finland and Estonia, the key message is that all countries have to take additional measures to increase the reading competence level. Reading is the basis for every child and student to learn, to perform in school and to become a vital part of society – regardless of the economic or educational level of their parents.” – says Dr. Joerg F. Maas, CEO of the German Reading Foundation and Chair of EURead.

Scientific evidence indicates that, irrespective of the socio-economic background of families, reading from a parent to a child can benefit children and add up to their academic success later in life. This process does not start in school, but is closely linked to the reading promotion and the proper support for families, healthcare specialists, kindergarten teachers, schoolteachers, librarians, etc. 

“The PISA study is once again a wake-up call for political decision makers in every European and OECD-country and reiterates the necessity for more and better reading promotion and literacy programs in each of our countries and in Europe as a whole. 

We as EURead, the European network of organisations focusing on reading promotion and literacy, encourage the European Commission to take the PISA study seriously and to start a European program to increase reading competence of every child in Europe.” – states Dr. Joerg F. Maas

More about the PISA 2022 results: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/pisa-2022-results-volume-i_53f23881-en

* OECD (2023), PISA 2022 Results (Volume I): The State of Learning and Equity in Education, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/53f23881-en.

EURead visits the Bologna Chidren’s Book Fair

On April 8th, 2023, EURead organised a panel discussion at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Panelists from the Global Network for Early Years Bookgifting discussed a range of topics.

The panelists were: Emmi Jäkkö (Lukukeskus, Finland), Lotte Baert (Iedereen Leest, Flanders), Marijke Bos (Stichting Lezen, Netherlands) and Julia Norrish (Book Dash, South Africa). The panel was moderated by Daan Beeke (Stichting Lezen, Netherlands).

This year’s edition of the BCBF seemed to have more room for literacy skills and reading promotion. We hope this trend will be continued in the next editions.

Early Reading Forum Lithuania

The Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania invites you to participate in the Early Reading Forum. It is a yearly event by the National library that aims to promote a professional and credible message on the benefits of early reading. The event is meant for parents, future parents and experts working with the reading education of toddlers – librarians, experts in formal and non-formal education. We invite you to watch the live event broadcast.

Dr Austėja Landsbergienė will speak about the influence reading has on a child’s emotional and social development, and how we can foster it through reading experiences. Prof. Dr Bettina Kummerling-Meibauer will talk about how books, meant for children up to three years old, promotes the development of early literacy, that is essential in the development of more complex skills – visual, linguistic and media literacy. Dr Ramunė Dirvanskienė will review neuroscience research on the influence a linguistic environment has for early development and will explain how the linguistic environment of families and educational institutions influence children’s brains, also the influence done through different reading methods and the contents of a book. Dr Rita Dukynaitė will present the results of research conducted by international organisations on the reading abilities of Lithuanian pupils, the influence of a home environment on a child’s reading, and discuss the links with parental reading and early childhood education.

The Forum will also present current UNESCO programs for children’s education and reading, and also review projects that gift books to babies from around the world and talk about how they promote reading in families. The activities and future goals of the “Book Start” (Knygų startas) project in Lithuania will be presented, as well as an overview of the contribution of public libraries for the promotion of early childhood reading.

Event programme

Save the Date: Annual General Meeting 2022

On May 4th and May 5th, our Annual General Meeting will take place in Brussels.

The meeting location will be the Representation of the Free State of Bavaria to the European Union, in Brussels.

We hope to finally meet in real life again, and bring together our members from all over Europe. We will be holding 2 days of plenary sessions on sharing experience and best practices to develop strategies for the promotion of literacy and reading across Europe.

More information will follow. If you are interested in participating, please use the contact form.

Books for Ukraine March 2022

Here are four initiatives of support:

1. The Polish Book Institute and the Metropolia Dzieci Foundation

The “Give a book to Ukrainian children” initiative is run by the Polish Book Institute together with the Foundation Metropolia Dzieci (Children’s Metropolis Foundation). So far the Polish Book Institute has purchased 7,000 copies of books for children and young people from five Ukrainian publishers, as one component of the project. The books are distributed to public libraries all over Poland, especially to the ones close to the Ukrainian refugee clusters.

You can donate directly to the foundation: Fundacja Metropolia Dzieci – with the annotation “Give a book to children from Ukraine”. IBAN: PL16 1140 2004 0000 3102 8012 1088

There is more information here DONATE A BOOK TO A UKRAINIAN CHILD.

2. Ukrainian Book Institute and Federation of European Publishers

The Federation of European Publishers has been asked by the Ukrainian Book Institute whether we could collect, on their behalf, money to print books for children’s refugees in Europe.

Crowdfunding campaign to support printing of Ukrainian children’s books | GoGetFunding

All money will be managed by the Ukrainian Book Institute and spent to print books in countries where Ukrainian kids are refugees.

FEP press release about it (available here).

3. ODILO: Spain

This is an initiative from the company, ODILO. It is called ODILO Stands With Ukraine and you can visit the landing page here.

To summarise the initiative (which is entirely free):

  • Distribute digital Ukrainian content for children and parents / guardians (ebooks, audiobooks, other formats)
  • Provide a platform entirely in Ukrainian with customised mobile applications for iOS and Android
  • Offer virtual tutoring services for refugees to learn the basics of the language spoken in their new land
  • Provide virtual classroom capabilities to Ukrainian teachers to continue lessons with their own classes, but also other displaced students.
  • We are working with Ukrainian publishers directly to obtain rights to offer print-on-demand services from Spain and to distribute hardcopies of their titles to governments and municipalities around Europe who are hosting refugees.

There is a lot more to our initiative as ODILO is one of the largest content aggregators with a platform that promotes Unlimited Learning in all formats.

4. Universal Reading Foundation: Poland

Warsaw, March 7th, 2022

Dear all,
We are a leading reading promotion foundation in Poland.
Last Friday we started fundraising money to be able to buy books from publishers in Ukraine, transport them to Poland and distribute them to Ukrainian kids and their families. This is obviously to help the Ukrainian kids here and the publishing industry in Ukraine – both at the same time.
I am writing to ask if you would be able to help.

There are c. 400 000 Ukrainian children in Poland already and this number is the target of this action. We have a warehouse for free, distribution for free, transportation probably also – so the money is needed only for the books.

The fundraising part is tough – not many people understand how crucial it is for those kids to be able
to have a moment of peaceful booksharing with their moms (no dads…), how important it is for
the psychological stableness of these kids but also – how fundamental for the future of Ukraine’s democracy is the survival of the Ukrainian book industry.

If each kid was to get a book we need c. 400k euros for the books.
A couple of days ago a Swedish author found her way to us and yesterday she started her fundraising campaign among publishers and authors in Sweden for our operation. So we hope that other international book industry communities, other organizations, and individual people may want to help.

If credentials are needed – we can send them.
Please visit our website: www.fpc.org.pl – it also demonstrates who we are and what we do.

Help can be sent through:
a/ https://paypal.me/FPCzytania?country.x=PL&locale.x=en_US
b/ https://zrzutka.pl/razemdlaukrainy/s/chwilawytchnienia
c/ EUR bank account: 31 1600 1462 1871 2526 2000 0005
BIC/SWIFT code: PPABPLPK
IBAN PL31160014621871252620000005
d/ USD bank account: 04 1600 1462 1871 2526 2000 0006
BIC/SWIFT code: PPABPLPK
IBAN PL04160014621871252620000006
e/ GBP bank account: 74 1600 1462 1871 2526 2000 0007
BIC/SWIFT code: PPABPLPK
IBAN PL74160014621871252620000007

For bigger help – we will have a direct euro account in a couple of days please email us at
ukraine-funds@fpc.org.pl
We will be grateful for all help, #SlavaUkraini!!!
Maria Deskur
maria.deskur@fpc.org.pl
Fundacja Powszechnego Czytania / Universal Reading Foundation

Books for Ukraine updated